Chameleons change colour, but leopards not their spots. Throughout his life Villa-Lobos, often likened by contemporaries to a big cat, gathered and stored musical ideas, using them sometimes years later with unabashed naivety and colourful fecundity. From childhood Bach’s music had fascinated Villa-Lobos, and he came quickly to regard it as a universal heritage, almost a folklore in its own right. He also saw many stylistic parallels between Bach and certain types of melody and texture found in Brazilian folk-music. The ideal psychological ambience thus existed for the creation of a musical form which hung piquant nationalistic elements on a purer, classical framework. In 1930 the time for this type of experimentation was right too: Brazilianisation of all things European was the order of the day, and such a bold overhaul in the arts was actively and officially encouraged. The result was the composition by Villa-Lobos — precisely during the 1930-1945 Vargas years — of 9 suites for various media which he called, untranslatably, Bachianas Brasileiras. These suites in fact crystallised traits from much earlier compositions. In 1910 Villa-Lobos had transcribed a Bach fugue for cello and piano, and the 1913 ‘’Pequena Suite’’ for the same instruments attempts to accommodate typically Brazilian material within the traditional suite. This is the heart of Villa-Lobos’s conception in the Bachianas Brasileiras: individual movements have dual titles, one reflecting the Bachian side of things and the other the Brazilian. The Prelúdio of No. 1, for example, is also entitled ‘Modinha’, a type of sentimental love-song popular in Brazil during the Monarchy.
next at (06:07) *Bachianas Brasileiras No.1* is scored for an instrumental combination which Villa-Lobos made uniquely his own: an ‘orchestra of cellos’. As a cellist himself Villa-Lobos understood intimately the peculiar tonal qualities of the instrument, and these are expertly utilised in the technically difficult music of the first of the Bachianas. Originally comprising two movements written in 1930, the work received its final form in 1938 when Villa-Lobos added the Introdução (Embolada) for a Sociedade Pro Música performance in November that year. ‘Embolada’ is a folk-song type from the north-east of Brazil which VillaLobos here imbues with a toccata-like quality. The Modinha, with its expansive melodic line and sequential structure, suggests the slow movements of Bach’s concertos, in its inexorable tread and hypnotic beauty. The Fuga pays homage to Bach’s contrapuntal mastery in a manner which recalls the musical conversas of Rio’s street musicians at the turn of the century, when ‘questions and answers’ were humorously and chaotically improvised. END The orchestral *Bachianas Brasileiras No.2* (1930) comprises four vignettes of the Brazil Villa-Lobos saw when he toured the country as a young man. In spirit it owes more to his 1920s series of Choros than to Bach. The tropical luxuriance of its orchestration and over-indulgent melodic sumptuousness represent an interpretation of Brazil very typical of Villa-Lobos, with Bach connections becoming little more than pleasing conceits. Indeed the movements are all orchestrations of earlier compositions. ‘O Canto do Capadócio’ (The Song of the Capadócio) paints a portrait of the typically slow, jobless and genial backlands scoundrel, while ‘O Canto da Nossa Terra’ (The Song of Our Land) is a further ‘modinha’. ‘Lembrança do Sertão (Memories of the Backlands) creates the peasant folk atmosphere of the dry Brazilian north-east. O Trenzinho do Caipira (The Little Train of the Caipira) takes us deeper into the backlands hauled noisily behind an obsolescent, though remarkably active, steam locomotive. END *Bachianas Brasileiras No.3* (written out of numerical sequence in 1938) has often been called a piano concerto, but this is to misunderstand the work completely. The solo piano plays an obbligato rather than a concertante role, emerging from on the whole serious and studied orchestral textures to comment wittily, embellish brilliantly, and then to retreat once again into an almost continuo-like background. As Berlioz equipped Harold with a viola for company in Italy, so Bach is given, appropriately enough, a keyboard instrument for his journey. The nature of the piano writing consolidates experiments made by Villa-Lobos in his many solo piano works of the 1910s and 1920s, where typically romantic textures became in turn impressionistic, jazzy and wildly dissonant. The most successful of these works, ‘Rudepoema’ (1926), combines all these elements to produce one of the most striking solo piano works of the twentieth century. In Bachianas Brasileiras No.3 the dissonance is repressed, the impressionism refined and the romantic gestures distanced, notably in the sobriety of the ‘Modinha’, which looks back to the Portuguese origins of that particular song-type. Indeed the Baroque of this Bachianas is more Hispanic than German: the Prelúdio imitates the practice of ‘ponteio’ (the melodic plucking of a guitar or stringed instrument), and the closing Tocata is Scarlattian in its bright incisiveness and virtuosity. Villa-Lobos, obsessed with the minutiae of the teeming bird and animal life of Brazil’s vast jungles and plains, was always eager to include natural sounds in his scores: ‘Uirapuru’ (1917) and ‘Choros’ No.10 (1926) both contain realistic imitation of birdsong as part of their panoramic impressions of Brazilian life, and Choros No.3 (1925) is particularly indebted to the sound of the ‘picapau’ (woodpecker). This ubiquitous bird again appears in the toccata of Bachianas No. 3, the first of several feathered characters to people the whole series. END *Bachianas Brasileiras No.4* sets out by indulging self-consciously in Bach-like techniques, though it also successfully encompasses a Brazilian mood. It slowly, however, becomes waywardly Latin American and, like No. 2, ends by having little to do with Bach at all: the cantor and the country he never dreamed of perhaps find themselves a little at odds. Again this may be easily explained: only the first movement was specially composed, the last three almost certainly being adaptations of earlier pieces. The complete work was put together in its original solo piano form by 1939, and orchestrated in 1941. The great Brazilian pianist José Vieira Brandão, responsible for promoting so much of Villa-Lobos’s oeuvre both as soloist and conductor, played the solo part in the first performance of Bachianas No. 3 in 1947, and gave the premiere of the piano solo version of No. 4 in 1939. The orchestral version was first performed in 1942. The Prelúdio, like so many Baroque keyboard preludes, derives from one small figure (itself an allusion to the Musical Offering’s ‘Royal Theme’) which is freely rhapsodised. The Coral uses the technique of embellishing a broad, simple melody perfected by Bach in his chorale preludes – Villa-Lobos’s ‘chorale’ is a painfully nostalgic ‘song of the backlands’ (Canto do Sertão), enhanced by the ever-present and lonely call of the ‘araponga’ (heard as a continuous high B flat), the ‘blacksmith bird’ of the sertão. The composer himself was vague about the Bachian content of the Cantiga (a tale or yarn), saying that the “falling and serene march is in the manner of Bach”. Likewise, Bach is only seen in the flamboyant ‘Miudinho’ (a type of samba) through its repeated arpeggiation and low pedal points which represent, according to Villa-Lobos, the sound of a large organ. END The linking of Bach with the cello greatly preoccupied Villa-Lobos during the 1930s and early 1940s, resulting in the production of a remarkable series of transcriptions, both for piano and cello and for orchestra of cellos, of preludes and fugues from Bach’s ’48’. The culmination of this interest was exquisitely reflected in the composition of the Ária (Cantilena) of *Bachianas Brasileiras No.5* Written in 1938, this piece explores the tonal possibilities of a cello orchestra, now with the addition of a soprano vocal line (always duplicated in the ensemble). The wordless, vocalised melody of the opening, accompanied by the cellos’ guitar-like strumming, has become the most celebrated passage of all time in Brazilian music: its simple beauty and heartrending romanticism have an appeal which transcends period and nationality. Bachian is the melodic span and firm bass line and Brazilian the spirit of serenade, but universal the emotions captured in this aria’s soaring and falling contours. A central section sets in declamation the words of a Nocturne by the poetess and singer Ruth Valadares Correa, who also gave the movement’s first performance in 1939. Villa-Lobos added a second movement in 1945, setting text by his great contemporary Manoel Bandeira to his own version of ‘Martelo’ — a fast-moving and often improvised folk-song type. According to Villa-Lobos, fragments of birdsong were used in the construction of this melody. END In 1924 Villa-Lobos wrote a duo for flute and clarinet which became the second of the ‘Choros’, works in which he attempted to crystallise the spirit of urban serenades and street music from the Rio de Janeiro he had known at the turn of the century. The imitative, two-part writing of this work is obviously suggestive of a Bach Invention, and the idea resulted in the composition of a similar piece for the Bachianas series. Composed in 1938, *Bachianas Brasileiras No.6*, for flute and bassoon, indeed borrows the word ‘choro’ for the subtitle of its first movement, indicating its origin in the music of the groups of itinerant street musicians called chorões. The two short, deliciously spiky movements appear spontaneously improvised, the play of the two instruments being humorously dissonant, but the effects are carefully calculated in counterpoint which looks clearly to Bach. This work was chosen for publication in a special collection of Brazilian music issued by the ‘Boletín Latino-Americano de Música’ in Argentina in 1946, and was also subsequently published in the USA. END Notwithstanding the careful suppression of all German ideology in Brazil in the last years of the 1930s, and the eventual declaration of war against Germany in 1942, Villa-Lobos continued to use the German cantor (or his spirit) as a vehicle for his own compositions and, after the completion of the Bachianas No.6, decided that the series’ next work should be reflective both of Bach at his grandest and Brazil at its most colourful. Bachianas Brasileiras No. 7 is scored for full orchestra and is the longest of the nine works. Its dedication is to a politician — Gustavo Capanema, the Minister of Education, to whom Villa-Lobos was responsible in his own educational work. The Prelúdio (Ponteio), like so many of Bach’s own preludes, is improvisatory in mood. A languorous, sequentially constructed ‘modinha’ shared amongst the woodwind is supported by pizzicato string figurations imitating, according to the composer, the practice of ponteio (see above, re Bachianas No.3). Indeed Villa-Lobos enlarges and develops the structure and atmosphere created in the Aria of No. 5, which similarly has a faster central section and a da capo reprise of the opening material. The Giga, subtitled Quadrilha Caipira, is an impression of a typical country ball, such as might be held in a small interior town on St John’s Day. The Quadrille, though falling quickly out of favour in Europe in the last century, remained popular in its Brazilian form — seen through Villa-Lobos’s eyes as a Bachian gigue. Desafio is an improvised musical competition between two singers which Villa-Lobos re-creates here in the spirit of a toccata. The work closes with a solemn and weighty fugue which, although subtitled Conversa, is closer to the Musical Offering’s ricercari than to any spontaneous demonstration of musical skills by Villa-Lobos’s old serenading companions. END *Bachianas Brasileiras No.8* (1944), like its predecessor, is scored for full orchestra. A Prelude and a Fugue (both without Brazilian subtitles) frame a reflective Ária — one of Villa-Lobos’s most exquisite modinhas — and an exhausting ‘Tocata’. A steam engine, a woodpecker and a musical game all having been used in previous Bachianas as Brazilian twins for more-or-less Bachian toccatas, Villa-Lobos here embraces the exuberant mood of the ‘catira’, an old dance from the south of Brazil characterised by much hand-clapping and foot-samping. The composer, always ready to re-cycle his material as many times as convenient, extracted several of the Brazilian-type melodies from this thematically over-ripe Bachianas and arranged them for wordless, unaccompanied voices in Volume 2 of his educational anthology Solfejos which he published shortly after the composition of Bachianas No.8. END The Fuga of Bachianas No. 8 was, in fact, arranged in its entirety in Solfejos and was thus the prototype for the final Bachianas, which may be performed either by unaccompanied chorus or (as here) string orchestra. Written in New York in 1945, Bachianas Brasileiras No.9 takes the elemental form of a Prelude and Fugue and is the summation of the series in that through the purity of either alternative medium Villa-Lobos projects with simplicity and uncluttered effect his vision of Bach and Brazil linked eternally. The Prelúdio muses languorously on a theme which is soon revealed as the subject of a vast and complex fugue. This fugue’s contrapuntal ingenuity confounds the argument that Villa-Lobos’s music is merely melody supported by clusters of colouristic harmony. Augmentation, stretto and other fugal devices are applied to a subject which assumes an Amerindian forcefulness through its syncopation and apparent lack of tonal centre. Villa-Lobos lived a further fourteen years after the completion of the Bachianas Brasileiras, but it seems he rarely captured again with such ingenuous virtuosity the spirit of unification which pervades these nine works, and which is most evident in this last. END Villa-Lobos’s name has become indissolubly associated with the guitar since his first meeting with Segovia in Paris in the 1920s (he stayed there until 1930, when he returned to Brazil), and if he has left comparatively few works for the instrument — Twelve Studies (1929), Five Preludes (1939-40), a Suite (1908-12) and the Concerto are the most important they have all become world-wide, standard repertory. Neville Cardus wrote that ‘Wagner ravished the fair body of music’, after which it was totally changed; Villa-Lobos did the same for the guitar and its music. The Concerto was written in 1951 for Segovia (who has never recorded it) but he premiered it (February 1956, in Houston, Texas) only after Villa-Lobos had added a cadenza —– there was one in the Harp Concerto, written for Zabaleta, so why not one for the guitar? and the work’s original title of Fantasia Concertante was changed. It is interesting to note that Villa-Lobos approved of the use of a microphone by the soloist, in order that he may play with greater freedom — a view to which Segovia has never subscribed. The orchestra briefly introduces the first movement before the guitar enters with the energetic, wide-ranging, first subject. The second, rather slower, recalls (but does not quote) the folksongs of north-east Brazil, and here the guitar deploys chords and harmonics, drawing further on its resources. Again after a short introduction (flute and clarinet) , the guitar begins with the principal theme of the second movement, a melody of ‘popular’ character in 3/4 time, which returns in varied form after the expressive, central section (6/8 time) and before the coda. Here the cadenza is interposed, a lengthy, virtuosic affair that muses over much of the Concerto’s thematic material — so substantial that it has even been detached and used as a solo concert item. The finale has several time changes (3/4, 2/4, 6/4, etc.), a variety of thematic material, and much syncopation. The guitar is partnered by other solo instruments (clarinet, oboe, bassoon, viola, horn) in displays of contrasting tone-colours, and, once having begun, the soloist hardly pauses for breath before the end of this stimulating kaleidoscope. END